Football

Benzema is fitter, more mature than before: Deschamps

Karim Benzema waited almost six years to make his France comeback and now the Real Madrid striker is in a hurry to win his first major trophy with Les Bleus.

Benzema helped France clinch the Nations League with goals in both the semi-final and final, but unlike his striking partners Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, he was not in the squad that won the 2018 World Cup.

Playing his second tournament after almost six years out of the team following a blackmail scandal - over which he faces trial later this month - the 33-year-old showed he was in the form of his life.

"We are going to enjoy this trophy and then go get the World Cup (next year)," Benzema said after France's 2-1 victory over Spain at the San Siro yesterday morning (Singapore time), during which he equalised with a superb 66th-minute curler.

His goal came just two minutes after Mikel Oyarzabal had given Spain the lead.

Kylian Mbappe then won it with a controversial 80th-minute goal, which left the Spaniards fuming as referee Anthony Taylor deemed that a touch from Spain defender Eric Garcia had rendered Mbappe onside despite the France forward being in an offside position.

While France came under pressure against a possession-obsessed Spain team, they did not panic as Benzema's clinical finishing helped them avoid defeat despite conceding first for the seventh time this year.

Coach Didier Deschamps said that Benzema's contribution extended beyond his goals.

"Karim is an essential player, he's proved it over the last two games," said Deschamps. "He's extremely fit, way more than he was before, and he's more mature.

"He's got this desire to win that he communicates to the other players."

Benzema, who has scored six goals in nine competitive outings since his return, will clearly be key to Les Bleus' World Cup title defence next year.

For Spain, the absence of a No. 9 was palpable, as first-choice centre forwards Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno were injured.

Spain coach Luis Enrique handed winger Ferran Torres the central role last week and he scored both their goals in the 2-1 semi-final win over Italy.

But, against the French, Torres was moved back to his preferred position on the right of a three-pronged attack, with Oyarzabal primarily in the centre and Pablo Sarabia on the left.

The French backline was largely able to cope, however, despite losing Raphael Varane to injury in the first half.

But Enrique took the positives from this tournament, in which he handed debuts to teenagers Gavi and Yeremi Pino.

"We won against the European champions (Italy) and were almost even with the world champions, so for the players and the team, that is all good," he said. - AFP, REUTERS

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